Vitamins, Vegetables, Heart Healthy

Supplements for a healthy heart – an oxymoron?

Confused about the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements? Overwhelmed by all the options of vitamins, fish oils, zinc and the like? You are not alone.

Evidence for health benefits of supplements has been equivocal. Even trusted authorities including the American Heart Association claim that the supplements ‘may’ help but should not ‘replace’ healthy foods in your diet. The recent science-based report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, also concerned with cardiovascular disease risk reduction, recommended 3 dietary patterns: 1) a healthy American diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and red meat, but high in fruit and vegetables; 2) a Mediterranean diet; and 3) a vegetarian diet.

Researchers from Canada set out to investigate whether existing supplement vitamin and minerals protect the heart. They published their findings in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.

They reviewed 179 randomized controlled trials that have examined the benefits of supplements. They found no benefits of multivitamins, vitamins C, D, b-carotene, calcium, and selenium, and possibly harmful effects of antioxidant mixtures and niacin.

The only exception was folic acid, which was associated with reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Overall, it revealed that the intake of folic acid alone could reduce stroke risk by 22 percent. Moreover, people with high blood pressure who took folic acid in addition to their usual hypertensive medication had a 73 percent lower risk of stroke.

Food for thought- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require manufacturers of dietary supplements to prove safety of efficacy of their products. Like prescription drugs, dietary supplements may have risks and benefits. But these products do not undergo the same amount of scrutiny before they come to the market and ultimately become a part of your diet.

So the next time you are thinking of purchasing dietary supplements, keep in mind that these may have no benefit and could possibly be harmful. Here’s a list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ recommended by the American Heart Association:


  • Eat a healthy diet. There’s just no substitute for a balanced, nutritious diet that limits excess calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and dietary cholesterol. This approach has been shown to reduce coronary heart disease risk in healthy people and those with heart disease.
  • Patients with heart disease should consume about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids called EPA + DHA. This should ideally come from fish. This can be hard to get by diet alone, so a supplement could be needed. As always, consult with a physician first.
  • If you have elevated triglycerides, try to get 2 to 4 grams per day of EPA+DHA.



  • Don’t take antioxidant vitamin supplements such as A, C and E. Scientific evidence does not suggest these can eliminate the need to reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol or stop smoking.
  • Do not rely only on supplements. There isn’t sufficient data to suggest that healthy people benefit by taking certain vitamin or mineral supplements in excess of the daily recommended allowance. Some observational studies have suggested that using these can lower rates of cardiovascular disease and/or lower risk factor levels. However, it’s unclear in these studies whether supplements caused these improvements.


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2 thoughts on “Supplements for a healthy heart – an oxymoron?

  1. Great article on the benefits and potential downsides of taking supplements.

    What about the supplement company care/of? They have a very compelling promise statement and ask me questions about my current medications!

  2. I wasn’t aware of that company, but have some general thoughts. For most people who eat a varied, healthy diet, taking supplements is not necessary. More importantly, I think it’s great that they report trying to keep their products pure, but when a product is not regulated (vitamins/supplements are not subject to FDA regulation), you have to be careful.

    As far as the quality of research behind many of these substances, it’s highly variable. Not that there aren’t patients who definitely require supplements from time to time, but evaluating the quality of research behind a recommendation is often done by professional societies rather than private companies. The reason this is important is because having a third party organization evaluate something helps to decrease the bias in recommending something.

    Two final points of caution: 1) for many, vitamins/supplements just aren’t necessary; 2) while these things may or may not have any benefit, there is the potential for harm as some of these things do interact with medications and have side effects. You should definitely talk with your doctor about what you’re taking.

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